By Steven Schwankert
NEW YORK (OSV News) — Hundreds of Catholic and Christian Pakistani Americans and Pakistanis called for an end to anti-Catholic and anti-Christian violence in Pakistan at a protest held in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza across First Avenue from United Nations headquarters in Manhattan Aug. 24.
Representatives of parishes from the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and others from Albany, New York, Philadelphia and as far as Virginia came to participate in the afternoon event, which featured speeches from Pakistani-American community leaders.
Protesters carrying crosses, Pakistani flags, American flags and placards shouted, “Stop burning churches in Pakistan” and “Justice for Christians in Pakistan.” The three-hour event was dampened later in the afternoon when rain began to fall in New York. Representatives from the Pakistan Mission to the United Nations did not appear at the protest.
The latest round of anti-Christian violence was sparked Aug. 16, when a Christian man and a friend were accused of desecrating the Quran, the holy book of Islam, according to The Associated Press. In the rampage that followed in the city of Jaranwala, about 210 miles north of Islamabad, the capital, 26 churches of various Christian denominations were burned, AP reported. The government of Pakistan pledged to give local Christians affected by the violence 2 million rupees ($6,800) in compensation, according to AP.
“We are here to condemn the inhuman acts, the cruelty, the hypocrisy, and all the inhumanity that is happening in Pakistan,” said Aaron Bashir, a former candidate for U.S. Congress from Philadelphia. “People had to flee for their lives, little children without shoes, without food, spent their night in the fields just to protect their lives.”
Bashir suggested that concerned Catholics and Christians contact their elected representatives and ask both that the U.S. government pressure Pakistan to protect the lives and rights of Christians, and to welcome Christian immigrants from Pakistan fleeing religious persecution.
The International Community Care Foundation, a U.S.-based Pakistani Christian group, issued a statement Aug. 24, denouncing the violence and calling for government and police protection of all Christians in Pakistan. “ICCF condemns the recent attack on Christians, churches, Bibles, crosses, and their personal houses and properties in Jaranwala, Pakistan, on August 16, 2023,” the statement read in part.
Pakistan was cited as an area of concern for Christian rights on International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence based on Religion or Belief, observed Aug. 22.
Approximately 1.3 million Pakistanis out of roughly 200 million identify as Catholic. Pakistan is one of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nations.